Are you aware that it's the devil as you watch?

At first, you probably aren't entirely aware of who it is. As it continues, you get a sense of who this is. There's no dialogue. She may whisper some things at certain points, maybe in the Gethsemane scene, but she really says very little.

Biblical allusions are woven through it. You're not just getting the Gospels, you're getting a biblical portrait. In the Gethsemane scene, -there's Jesus stepping on the head of a snake, which is an allusion to Genesis 3. And there are other allusions designed to pull in other texts and biblical imagery alongside the actual gospel story.

"The reason he was suffering was not because of a problem Jews or Romans had, but because of a problem humanity had."

While I was watching, at certain points I could say, "That's Mark 14--I can tell you what passage that is." At other points, they're filling time between events. I think it's done with a reasonable amount of artistic imagination.

What do you make of the dispute involving the use of work by the medieval Catholic visionary, Sister Emmerich? Her writing includes a mystic vision of the cross being built in the Jewish Temple. Apparently that scene has been removed from the movie?

I don't know if it's been removed--it's been discussed. I've not only seen the movie, I've seen the report [of the Catholic-Jewish scholars' group]. That was one of [their] complaints, that this scene was happening in the Temple at night. There was a huge crowd associated with this initial trial scene.

I spent a year researching the historicity of the Jewish examination of Jesus and wrote a monograph on it. I don't believe it's a trial scene; it's more like a grand jury investigation. The Jewish high priests were trying to gather information to take to Pilate. They were seeking a political charge, because if they get a political charge and Rome agrees to Jesus' guilt, they're protected.

So this is what happened in the film?

This is what happened in the film, because this is what happened in the biblical story. I think it's what happened historically. There are Jewish historians who say that their leadership was responsible for the death of Jesus. Josephus wrote a very famous passage in Antiquities, in which he says the Jewish leadership shares blame for the death of Jesus.

Caiaphas and Pilate had an ongoing relationship. Pilate appointed a high priest every year, and every year he ruled for Rome, he appointed Caiaphas. It was a very close relationship.

Was that usual?

Caiaphas came from a family that had five different relatives over a three-decade period who were high priests. Caiaphas was high priest for 9 or 11 years out of that total. This family had a lot of power and a very good relationship with Rome.

Pilate also had a very sensitive relationship with Jews because twice he was insensitive to them. He put standards in the city of Jerusalem, little ensigns with the Roman eagle on them, which the Jews viewed as idols. When they reacted he removed them.

In one of the passages from Josephus, Pilate threatens to kill Jews who protest. They all lay down in front of him, saying that if he wanted to cut their heads off, he could go ahead. The story as Josephus tells us is that [Pilate] was so impressed with their devotion to the law that he backed off. There are two incidents of this in Pilate's rule.

And there's a third one that Philo, yet another Jewish historian, writes about. The Jews come in and say, "If you don't do what we want, we will write the emperor." And he doesn't do what they want, they do write to the emperor, and he's called back to Rome. Of course, by the time he gets back there, the emperor has died, so he's spared. But the point is, the claim in the [USCCB scholars'] work that the Jewish leadership could not influence Pilate is false, according to ancient Jewish writers.

There are several points about which the scholars have challenged the film. One is the use of Latin by the Romans-in that, the scholars are almost certainly correct.The language would have likely been Greek, and the everyday street language would have been Aramaic. Although I think in terms of the substance of the film, it doesn't make much difference. It's the feel of the foreignness that artistically drives this film. So that didn't bother me that much. If I'd been asked, I would have told them to use Greek, but in terms of what the film is doing visually and conceptually, that's a minor detail.

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